THE United States may be the home of basketball, but now an Edinburgh woman has become the first person from Scotland to take charge of an American team.
Donna Finnie, 36, a former head coach of Scotland’s under-18 national teams, has been named as the head coach of Houston Baptist University (HBU) in Texas.
University basketball in the US is hugely competitive, with young players attracting six-figure sponsorship deals and huge crowds watching games.
Now Donna, who was brought up in Corstorphine, has become one of a tiny number of non-Americans to take up a senior position in the game.
She puts her success down to the encouragement of her PE teachers when she was a pupil at St Augustine’s High School.
She said: “I was 5ft 11in in first year so I stood out. In my first week at school I was walking down a corridor and one of the sports teachers saw me and asked if I’d ever played basketball – and that was it.
“I fell for it the very first time I played, and by the next Christmas all my presents were basketball-related. I was just so lucky to have such great and supportive teachers.”
Donna remained passionate about basketball throughout high school and went on to play for the national team.
She studied sports science at Moray House in Edinburgh and a scholarship to spend a year in the US gave her an insight into the passion and investment the sport attracts there.
But, at the age of 23, a back injury ended her career.
After a spell coaching the Scottish under-16 team, Donna was promoted to the under-18 national team until 2009.
For the past three years she has been back in the US working for the Texan institution as assistant coach and recruitment manager, where she has brought several European students, including one Scot, Erin McGarrachan from Cumbernauld, over to play on the team.
After being named head coach of the women’s team, nicknamed the Huskies, she’s now looking forward to slam-dunking the competition.
She said: “The whole set-up is much more professional here. Just in terms of budget, I look at what we have to spend at college level and compare that with the national team back in Scotland having to scrimp and save.
“The girls that come here benefit from nutritionists, strength training specialists, sports psychologists. I hope that’s something they will take away with them that could benefit basketball in Scotland and other parts of Europe.”
Donna said that despite a few language differences, she’s received a warm welcome in the US.
She said: “I was a bit of a novelty at first and sometimes when I’d ask the girls to do something they’d just look at me, because I used different words to what they were used to, but everyone’s been great.”
Kevin Pringle, chief executive of Basketball Scotland, said Donna’s appointment was a testament to the growing popularity of the sport in Scotland.
He said: “Her new role is an example of the level that those that get involved in the game can reach.”